Commentator William Barclay writes about Philippi:

The city had been founded by Philip, father of Alexander the Great, and it is his name that it bears. It was founded on the site of an ancient city called Krenides, a name which means The Wells or Fountains. Philip had founded Philippi in 368 B.C. because there was no more strategic site in all Europe. There is a range of hills which divides Europe from Asia, east from west and just at Philippi that chain of hills dips into a pass so that the city commanded the road from Europe to Asia, since the road must go through the pass. This was the reason that one of the great battles of history was fought at Philippi; for it was here that Antony defeated Brutus and Cassius, and thereby decided the future of the Roman Empire.

Not very long after, Philippi attained the dignity of a Roman Colony. Wherever they were, these colonies were little fragments of Rome and their pride in their Roman citizenship was their dominating characteristic. The Roman language was spoken; Roman dress was worn; Roman customs were observed; their magistrates had Roman titles, and carried out the ordination ceremonies as were carried out in Rome itself. They were stubbornly and unalterably Roman and would never have dreamt of becoming assimilated to the people amidst whom they wert set. We can hear the Roman pride breathing through the charge against Paul and Silas in Ac.16:20-21: “These men are Jews, and they are trying to teach and to introduce laws and customs which it is not right for us to observe–for we are Romans.”

[ ****Word of caution regarding Barclay. He is great on history and background but highly questionable when it comes to miracles and the supernatural.]

It was in this atmosphere where people were fiercely loyal to Rome that Paul wrote the words, you are a colony of heaven, (Php. 3:20). Just as the Roman colonist never forgot in any environment that he was to conduct himself as a citizen of Rome, these believers in Philippi must never forget that they must conduct themselves as citizens of the kingdom of God.

Beloved, the Bible tells us in Romans 12.1,2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Remember when Daniel and his 3 fellow Hebrews were in captivity in Babylon? They changed their names to Babylonian names. They changed their diet. They sought to brainwash them into thinking that they were Babylonians. Thank God that they resisted! They knew that they were not heathens, they were Hebrews.

Precious flock of God…do not buy, believe or drink the world’s Kool-aid. Christ has redeemed us from this present evil world system. You are no longer a child of this world system, you are a child of the Living God.

It was on the second missionary journey, about the year A.D. 52 that Paul first came to Philippi. Urged on by the vision of the man of Macedonia with his appeal to come over and help us, Paul had sailed from Alexandrian Troas in Asia Minor. He had landed at Neapolis in Europe, and thence made his way to Philippi. The story of Paul’s stay in Philippi is told in Acts16. It is worth noting that in Acts 16.10, we find the word we, which means that Dr. Luke (the human author of Acts) is now writing from personal, first hand experience.

This church was the first church established in Europe. It would appear that the church was actually an answer to the prayer of the women who gathered there to pray alongside the Gangites River. Isn’t it interesting that in the vision that Paul receives it is a man asking him for help, but when he arrives at Philippi, the first people that he meets are women praying.

Being led by The Spirit, Paul preached the gospel to them and The Lord graciously opened the heart of a woman by the name of Lydia who became a disciple of Jesus Christ. She was a wealthy woman who sold purple dyed goods. Many believe that the church actually began to meet in her spacious house.

Satanic opposition to the new church immediately arose in the person of a demon- possessed, fortune- telling slave girl (Acts 16:16–17). Not wanting even agreeable testimony from such an evil source, Paul cast the demon out of her (Acts 16:18). The apostle’s act enraged the girl’s masters, who could no longer sell her services as a fortune- teller (Acts 16:19). They hauled Paul and Silas before the city’s magistrates (Acts 16:20) and inflamed the civic pride of the Philippians by claiming the two preachers were a threat to Roman customs (Acts 16:20–21). As a result, Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned (Acts 16:22–24).

The two preachers were miraculously released from prison that night by an earthquake, which unnerved the jailer and opened his heart and that of his household to the gospel (Acts 16:25–34). The next day the magistrates, panicking when they learned they had illegally beaten and imprisoned two Roman citizens, begged Paul and Silas to leave Philippi

The date of the letter is A.D. 63 or 64, and Paul is writing this letter as a prisoner in Rome.

It was a letter that was sent to encourage them in the trials and persecution that they were facing. Chapter 1

  • John 16.33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

It was a letter that was sent to inform them of Epaphroditus health. He had been sent with this gift for Paul and he took seriously ill after he had arrived. Chapter 2

  • 1 Cor 12.26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it

It was a letter that was sent to urge them to reject selfish ambition and to seek unity in Christ.  Chapter 2; 4.2,3

  • Romans 12.10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another

It was a letter that was sent to encourage them to press towards the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Chapter 3

  • Philippians 3.8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord

It was a letter that was sent to thank them for their generous financial gift of support. Chapter 4

  • 2 Corinthians 8.1,2 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.

One of the many lessons that I hope to glean from in this epistle is the need for us to be sensitive to the providential, sovereign working of God in each and every one of our lives. 

The Bible says that God is working in you both to will and to do of Hid good pleasure (Phil 2.13).

In the kingdom of God, the baseline from home plate to first base is rarely a straight 90 feet. Indeed, as the prophet Isaiah said, His ways are not our ways. Paul’s initial path to Philippi is one of those examples of the mystery of divine providence.

When it comes to understanding the will of God for our lives, we must understand beloved the difference between the “general” will of God that relates to all saints, with no exception, and the specific will of God, which is for my life according to His purposes.

Examples of the general will of God would be His will regarding being thankful, praying, using our talents and resources for the glory of God. It would include the general instructions about the roles of being a husband, wife, employer or employee. You get the idea.

However, in addition to the general will of God, there is that personal or specific will of God that is indeed rooted in Biblical principles, but is a progressive, providential revelation of God’s will and purpose for me and my life. I believe that  every single day, we are walking in the unfolding of the progressive, providential will of God for my life and my sanctification.

We see this clearly when we read Acts 16. It is there that we read that Paul had it in his heart to bring the gospel to Asia, after all, didn’t Jesus Himself say, preach the gospel to every nation? Indeed He did. That is His general will for the entire body of Christ.

Paul wanted to go to Asia, and God loves sinners in Asia, but The Lord shut the door on him. However, we see that the gospel did indeed spread to Asia, for we read the 7 letters of Jesus to the 7 churches that are in Asia. (Revelation 1.4,11; chapters 2 and 3). The general will of God was for the gospel to be preached to Asia, but that was not the specific will of God for Paul.

Did anything like this ever happen to you in your personal Christian experience? Have you ever had a strong desire in your heart to do something, go somewhere and the doors just seem to close left and right?

Some precious saints think that because something is very heavy on their heart that automatically means that it is God’s specific will for them to do that or go there. We learn from Scripture that just because something is in your heart that does not always mean that it is the will of God for you to do that or go there.  Just ask David and Nathan (2 Samuel 7; 1 Kings 8.17,18). David had it in his heart to build the temple, but it was not God’s specific will for David to build it. It was the specific will of God but for his son Solomon to build the temple, not him. David’s vision and burden for the temple was in harmony with God’s will, but it was not God’s sovereign, specific will for David.

Nevertheless, David made preparations for building the temple. In other words, David had God glorifying motives about the building of the temple. As long as the temple was built and God got the glory, David was a blessed man. In submission to the will of God, David charged his son Solomon to build the temple. He even charged the people of God to contribute towards the building the temple, but David himself did not build it because it was not God’s will for David to build it himself.

It is amazing how something like this reveals the motives of a persons heart. Over the years, many people have come to me with visions of teaching this group or doing that kind of a ministry. The vision was right on! But The Lord had another person in mind. However, when they were not the ones asked to teach the study, it amazed me that they wanted nothing to with it, in fact, many times they would speak out against it.

Hear this dear ones, the steps of a good man are ordered by The Lord (Psa 37.23). However, it is equally true that The Lord orders the stops or closed doors of a good man or woman. The Lord was stopping Paul from going to Asia because it was God’s specific will for Paul to bring the gospel to Europe! How many people here today are of European descent?

Have you ever wondered why you were transferred to work in sunny Rochester, New York from the dark and gloomy San Diego? Have you dear college or post grad students here this morning ever wondered why you were accepted to attend RIT or UR instead of ugly places like University of Hawaii or Florida State University? Have you ever wondered why the doors are closed from you going on that mission field that you prayed for day and night?

Know this beloved, when Jesus closes a door on you…it is not to harm you or condemn you…it is not to make your life miserable. It one sense, it may be a heart check for you, especially if God is raising up someone else to teach or lead that study or area of ministry.

In another sense, it may be His divine way of saying, I’ve got another door for you to walk through…. I’ve got a better door than you can ever imagine is in store for you. Beloved, do not kick against the goads of divine providence. Stop wrestling with Jesus…rest in Him!!

As I said previously, there is rarely the absence of intrigue regarding the mystery of the Christian life. Paul was given the vision of a man saying Come over and help us (Acts 16.9), correct? So, when Paul lands in Philippi, does he find a man? No, he finds women praying besides a body of water and that prayer meeting turned into the church of Philippi!!

Another lesson we will see in this book is that being in the will of God does not always mean that there will smooth sailing with no difficulties, no hardships or opposition. Truth be told, that is seldom the case. At Philippi, Paul and many other Philippians suffered hard things. At Philippi, Paul was beaten and he scourged. At Philippi, Paul was put into a dark and dungy prison cell. And in all of this he was in the perfect will of God. And when they were released, they did not miss a beat in doing what God called them to do, knowing full well that bonds and persecutions awaited them. There is always opposition to the work of God, but He grants the grace and strength to press on for His glory.

Another lesson that we will learn from this epistle is that the Christian faith is to be a joyful one in spite of our circumstances.  Beloved, a true relationship with Jesus Christ produces joy, even in the darkest moments, and I will explain that in a minute lest Satan begin to condemn and of you dear saints who are not “feeling” very joyful this morning.

Consider this, in the upper room, just prior to His being arrested and ultimately crucified, Jesus tells the apostles that they are going to be persecuted because of their love for Him and the gospel that they will share. But what else did Jesus say?

  • John 15.11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

Of course John was one of the apostles in that upper room that night. So what revelation does John pass along to Christians who had embraced Christ as Lord and were going through some of the most intense persecution at the hands of the cruel Roman Emperors near the end of the first century?

  • 1 John 1.4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

The word joy or rejoicing is found many times in this letter. The idea that to be spiritual or holy is equivalent to being miserable, gloomy and depressed is contrary to Scripture. Let me explain.

Among the fruit of The Spirit listed in Galatians 5 is joy. Let’s set the record straight here this morning brothers and sisters. Biblical joy and worldly happiness is not the same thing. The root Greek words that we translate into the English word happiness indicate that happiness depends upon the chances and changes in life. In other words, as long as there is money in the bank, my health is perfect, the weather is fine, the kids are all right, nobody bothers me, my team is winning, I’m a happy camper. I am the easiest guy in the world to be around!!

I call this Dreamland or Disneyland Christianity! Take your pick!!

On the other hand, or I would prefer to say, welcome back to planet earth, what the Bible promises to those who love God and live for Christ is joy. And what is the basis of our joy?

Biblical joy in not some giddy, Bobby McFerrin “don’t worry, be happy” kind of a thing. A couple of Scriptures should demolish that unbiblical interpretation.

  • Hebrews 12.2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus Christ was not walking to the cross to bear our sin bloodied and beaten singing, zip a dee do dah zip a dee yah. He joy that Jesus had was not physical, it was not emotional, it was not circumstantial.

The joy that Jesus had was knowing that He was loved of The Father and that He was in the specific will of The Father.

Beloved, Christians have pain just like any other human being. We have sorrow and grief just like any other human being. We cry and get discouraged and weary just like every other human being.

Joy is the fruit of God centered, Christ exalting, Spirit inspired theology that is rooted in the truth that God is The Potter, and I am the clay, He is my loving Father and my times are in His hand.

Joy is that personal experience of the presence of Jesus Christ in my life and an absolute surrender to His providential will for my life in spite of my grief, my circumstances or my sorrows.

  • After Job lost nearly everything, he worshipped God.
  • After David lost his son, he worshipped God.
  • When Abraham was told to sacrifice his son of promise Isaac on the altar, he worshipped God.
  • Habakkuk had joy though totally destitute of everything else.

Joy? Paul is writing this epistle of joy from a prison cell, not the Apostolic Suite at the Sheraton in Cancun! We read in Acts 16 that it was at Philippi that he and Silas sang praises at midnight after being beaten to a pulp.

Obviously Paul and Silas’ expression of worship and joy was not because of how they felt or their wonderful surroundings…Paul’s joy was in his relationship with Jesus…the knowledge that his life was in The Lord’s hands…. and the assurance that when his life was over, he was going to go to be with Jesus forever! To live is Christ and to die is gain.

I have heard that the African impala can leap 10 feet high when running at full speed. But, when you go to a zoo, you’ll see impalas kept in areas with a 4-foot fence…Why? Because if they can’t see where they will land, an impala won’t jump.

Paul knew where he was going to land after his life on earth was over saints, and therefore he could have joy.

  • Luke 10.19,20 Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy:and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.
  • John 14.1-6 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions:if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me

Do you know for sure today my friend where you are going to land? You can be sure.

Last but certainly not least, the main reason for Paul’s joy practically was connected with his theology. How so? Paul knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was absolutely sovereign in every single event of his life. His theology impacted his thinking. He did not view life as a series of coincidences or accidents, but as a divine working of God Who was working in Him both to will and to do of His good pleasure. God was working all things together for good in Paul’s life. And beloved, God is working all things together for good in your life this morning.

Remember beloved, your theology effects your attitude, and your attitude produces a holy joy that effects your actions and your vocabulary!   We are in Christ and in Him we live, and move and have our being! The joy of The Lord is your strength beloved. He is our joy! Rejoice in The Lord always, and again I say rejoice.